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Sixty thousand

Top of the driveway as I came home yesterday.

60,000 kilometres
60,000 kilometres.

I bought Caoimhe at the end of February 2021 with about 42,500km on the clock. So 29 months, 17,500km. Is about 600km a month. Or about 150 a week. Well, that's about right if you assume that going to work and back is about 130km a week, plus extra for those Saturdays, plus whatever extra for any other journey I wanted to make (Big Town, smaller town, collecting a parcel, vide greniers, etc etc).
I think I do a minimum of about 6,250km a year purely on the work commute (though, again, extra days will add to that).

You'll notice I'm going out less. Like I said, I don't really like driving...

My "big service" is in about 1,000km. That's about seven weeks of normal use. So it ought to nicely coincide with my planned holiday.

 

Price gouging

I made myself a curry the other day.

I probably won't in the future.

Now, don't get me wrong. It was farfalle (that I adore), with actual chicken, and a nice Shawoods tikka sauce.

Oh, I've just looked on Google. It's Sharwoods. Well, okay, that's what happens when you speak a non-rhotic version of English. ☺

Anyway, the end result was quite pleasant. Spicy without being too much, and some lovely unusual textures as a result of the pasta (which in itself has a quite different behaviour to rice).

The problem? It was nearly four euros for the jar of sauce. Same again, €3,88 in fact, for 210g of chicken ("aigullettes", or fine cuts of the filet).
I'm not having any burgers this weekend, as it's somewhere between €4 and €5 for a pack of fresh burgers (as in the patties), or around €8 to €12 for a box of ten frozen.
I think there's something seriously wrong with a world where I can buy myself fifty burger patties for the same price as a vacuum cleaner...

With pay still not moving, and the company not seeming at all willing to do anything about it that isn't a legal necessity (and just this week the site director was lamenting good people leaving and taking their know-how with them....they seriously wonder why?), paying attention to the prices of things is getting depressing. It's like when times were good there were lots of profits and plenty of money and investment. Now times are not good, they seem to think that they can maintain those sorts of profits by simply jacking up prices.

Dinner today? This.

Marie Macaroni Cheese
Marie Macaroni Cheese.

It's not a great macaroni cheese - they use emmental for goodness sake - but it's a reasonably tasty meal. Substantial too at 900g (a typical ready meal is 280-300g). And at €5,49 (which, admittedly, is about a euro more than when it was introduced several months ago) it's cheaper than the self-made tikka meal and only needs to whizz around the microwave for about 25 minutes.

Yes, I eat a lot of processed food. I'd like to eat less of it, but it's a combination of me generally sucking at cooking anything that isn't pasta, not having enough hours in the day to spend ages in the kitchen, and seeing the prices of things and realising that, for the most part, you don't really save much.

The latter part I knew. I used to buy a cheese and broccoli bake, many years ago. I briefly tried making my own but between the raw ingredients costing almost as much, plus the time and energy to actually cook the thing, I wasn't coming out ahead.
I'm quite sure if you want to place a command for three hundred kilos of broccoli you can get a good price. But if it's three hundred grams you're looking for, there are far too many middle men each wanting a cut so the price explodes.

 

Little green men

There is a lot wrong in America. From a foetus having more rights than the mother that it is within, to the endless parade of trying to ban books that tell a story different to the narrow-minded ones that certain governors and senators wish to accept, to the pathetically useless employee "rights" (note the scare quotes), and indeed the entire country's relationship with the rest of the world... the rising threats of Russia and China... and so on.

There's a lot that should occupy the government.

So it seems to me that it is actually ridiculous that anybody is paying attention to what I believe is a former intelligence officer talking about the government keeping not just alien artefacts, but potentially actual aliens as a secret from the world for many many years.

The big problem is that the "evidence" provided is little more than "a mate of a mate overheard down the boozer last Saturday night".
Yes, he may have interviewed people who talked to him about these alien artefacts. But then maybe he's known for being gullible and everybody was winding him up? Notably he has not actually seen or touched any such artefact.

And this is a massive problem. Because "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Whether it's little green men or a beardy bloke in the clouds, if you want to convince, I don't want to know what you think or feel. Plonk something of non-earth (or heavenly) origin on the table. Then, and only then, shall we talk.

 

Don't get me wrong. I fully believe in life in outer space. We are not alone.

However, let's look at properly sentient life. Not life such as bacteria and bugs, and not sort of intelligent life like bears and birds, but actual life capable of pondering what it actually is.

For example, do you think Anna sits there licking herself and pondering her nature as a cat?
No, Anna's mental process is closer to this flowchart:

Cat logic chart
Feline logic chart.

It occurs to me that there are similarities between cats and toddlers.

So, we need a life form that can contemplate itself which will mean that it is self-aware enough to ask questions like "why am I here?" and start to wonder what else might be out there.

And we need a life form with the abilities to create spacecraft. It doesn't matter how brilliant a mind is, if it's an aquatic world inhabited by sentient octopi. Even with eight arms, they're not going to get far with tools (brilliant things, these opposable thumbs). Plus, blasting off to space... aquatic creatures? I don't think so.

So we need sentient self aware life with a body structure to permit the use of tools, the imagination to wonder, and the technical abilities to actually build functioning spacecraft.
And the desire to want to explore the universe (and not try to hide from it).
And, given the distances of space, a much further advanced level of science to make practical such things as wormholes and such, or at the very least, to be able to enter a full stasis to endure the EXTREME time spans of space. To put this into context, the space shuttle can throttle up to around 17,500mph (28,000 km/h). If this is about the sort of speeds that our spacecraft can achieve, it will take something like a hundred and fifty thousand years to make it to Alpha Centauri, our closest star.
Our fastest current spacecraft is a much faster 364,660 mph (586,800 km/h) achieved by the Parker Solar Probe. But do note that there's a big difference in mass between a probe and a full ship carrying humans. Assuming that we could get a full sized ship up to those sorts of speeds, we're still looking at something like seven or eight thousand years just to get there. To put this into context, we humans were in the early neolithic stage, transitioning from the hunter/gatherer mode of life to one that started to domesticate animals and crops in order to have an agricultural lifestyle.

Of course, this planet has been around for many millions of years. It has undergone several exinction level events, including a fairly recent mini one around 70,000 years ago that nearly wiped out humans. Some accounts think that humanity may have been reduced to just 10,000 reproductive adults.

So if we can extrapolate from our single data point to the rest of the universe, there's not really anything special about this planet. It has already been demonstrated (the Miller-Urey experiment) that if you gather together the sorts of things that existed at the time of the primordial soup days; namely water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen. Warm it, and keep zapping the gas with electric sparks (to simulate lightning), it can produce the building blocks of life. The experiment was done in 1953. The sealed vials were examined in 2007 (after Miller's death) and it turns out that the experiment created more than twenty amino acids, more than Miller himself discovered, and more importantly, more than the twenty that naturally occur in our genetic code.

With this in mind, even if a fraction of a percentage of potential planets have the same sorts of conditions, that's still plenty of opportunity for life.

And maybe some of that life is intelligent.

But to want to come and visit Earth, and be capable of doing so, and to visit the United States when we're technologically capable of not just observing them but potentially capturing them (as opposed to soiling our clothes and declaring them gods which is pretty much what we'd have done for much of our history), and a government that is pretty lousy at keeping secrets manages to keep this secret for decades until "this one guy" blows the lid off?

It's utterly ridiculous. That we've been "visited" by extra-terrestrials that somehow kept themselves out of sight of most of us. That the American government (and only them) have recovered bits. That these bits have been subject to all sorts of analysis. And that all of this was kept a big secret until today.

You see, while America is quite capable of innovating, it does so at about the same pace as other major countries. They pretty much ended World War II by being mental enough to nuke two cities. Bear in mind that in the context of warfare, tanks and planes were actually pretty new. So here they come with something capable of vapourising entire cities. It brings a terrifying existential threat.
But, but, it took very little time for Russia to catch up, and so The Cold War happened. Where America and Russia pointed their nukes at each other, and all of the main players in this game (such as France and the UK as well as the aforementioned) would conduct "secret" nuclear tests where the footage and stats were leaked if the bomb was a success in order to... well, it was basically a crazy dick-waving contest. The only thing that has stopped anybody actually making a nuclear attack with these weapons is a plethora of automatic systems specifically designed to detect nukes and launch their own. It's called "Mutually Assured Destruction" (I do not believe the acronym "MAD" is coincidental), and it works on the theory that nobody who starts such a conflict will win anything other than a phyrric victory. We'll all burn together.

Now, if America had access to the sorts of technologies that could travel the vast of space, don't you think their level of technological achievement would be massively more than it currently is? Why are we relying on weirdos like Elon Musk to colonise Mars (let's face it, people like him are exactly the sort who shouldn't ever be allowed off the planet for fear of polluting the rest of the cosmos) when you'd have thought they'd already have better things than remote controlled helicopters. There's exactly nothing unusual about American technology when compared to the rest of the world. Their EV batteries are like everybody else's. They have created the two globally most popular smartphone systems, but that's because they have a huge marketplace and the resources. Things that came before (Symbian, for instance) weren't American. And Linux that underpins Android was started by a Finn.

This isn't to say that America is dumb, it isn't. But on a technical level, it's about the same as other places. They've been to space. So has Russia. They've made rockets. So have many countries. They've made computers and processors. So have other countries.
And so on. There's no massive technological lead that one would expect if they had unique and sole access to alien tech.

Plus, the biggest complaint of them all - the expectation that all of this stuff was somehow kept a secret for so long and now is the first time that anybody has openly talked about it. Not just that, but somebody who has openly talked and didn't get involved in a fatal accident...

No, there are no little green men. The guy is either extremely gullible and actually believes this crap he was spoonfed, or he is on some sort of ruse. I dunno, maybe it's a form of dementure? Whatever, it defies belief that there are hearings that seem to want to take this nonsense seriously.

 

Audiophile

Reading Anon's reply to my reply to his comment, I would absolutely describe him as an audiophile.
He's clearly somebody who enjoys listening to music, and has a reasonably decent setup in which to do so. But the part that pushes him into the category of audiophile is that he also clearly has the technical competence to know what works with what, and more importantly, what works for him.

People who pay stupid amounts of money for speaker cables are not audiophiles, they're gullible. A deoxygenated wire (*) or an amplifier with frequency-matched flux capacitors (*) are the result of marketing to gullible people who are too dumb (or, let's be generous, poorly educated) to know any better. It's the same reason that we often see people promoting beauty crap or washing powder while wearing lab coats. A big white coat signals "science stuff". Couple that with colourful and complicated pictures of molecules and it'll turn into a case of "shut up and take my money".
These people aren't audiophiles, they're the sort of people that would dream of buying the Linn LP12-50...

* - I'm making this stuff up, can you tell?

Not so long ago, somebody complained about me using some generic audio cable that I got from the local DIY store to make up the extra metre and a half for the speaker that was further away.

Speaker cable and join
Speaker cable and join.

Apparently this is a terrible thing to do, it risks greatly affecting quality.
Uh-hu. The signal, in digital form, makes it through thousands of kilometres of undersea fibre optic cables, more switches and amplifiers than one can count, even more fibre-optics on land, then is modulated into an analogue form to be pushed down nearly five kilometres of copper twisted pair slung up in the sixties and patched loads of times since then. Finally, to be turned back into digital, and decoded from base ADSL datastream. At this point, it's a massive pile of TCP/IP packets, that might not always arrive in the right order. All of this gets dropped into the WiFi adaptor and broadcast for about ten centimetres when an ESP32 microcontroller will receive and decode the radio signal to recover the TCP/IP packets. It will then strip all of this to hand some software a raw 128kbit MP3 or 68kbit AAC stream (both roughly equivalent in quality), which will then be converted to PCM and spat out as an I2S datastream to a codec chip that will finally translate the digital audio stream into analogue. All of the previous analogue components have been analogue representations of digital data. But now it's an analogue representation of analogue data. This is then fed into an amplifier which basically "makes it bigger" so that it's a large enough signal that it can directly drive speakers. Yes, the analogue signal can be degraded by a bad cable, but it would have to be a remarkably poor cable to have that sort of effect with just a metre and a half of it. I was even careful to install the cable the right way around. They're unidirectional, you know... 😂
Given, as I said, it's a lowish bitrate AAC or MP3 source, so the best quality bump will be not changing the cable, but changing the source. Unfortunately there are few streaming radio stations that support higher bitrates (more data equals more expense) so it's always going to be a compromise.

 

Crap Lidl bug lamp

A couple of months ago, I got two bug zapper lamps from Lidl. The first was a traditional wall mounted lamp with a UV tube.
The other was a little portable battery-powered lamp with LEDs.

I noticed moths on the portable lamp. Like, walking on the wire grid. And not going pop.

Some testing later, it transpires that there's no power on the HV wires. The transformer is about 2 ohms on the primary and about 14 ohms on each of the secondaries, which is about what I'd expect. There's no short circuit on the HV. The connections are good. The HV capacitor is good.

UV lamp
UV lamp innards.

So, maybe it's the switching transistor. It is an SOT-23 package marked "Y1". This appears to be some sort of NPN transistor arranged Base, Collector, Emitter (left to right looking at the device with the three pins facing towards you, or bottom up in the picture above). The pin on the other side is the Collector, it's big probably to cope with heat or more power or something.

I whipped out an NPN transistor I had (an S8050). I wasn't going to expect it to last long, but if it worked at all it would indicate something to fix.
The transistor was patched in. The arrangement was Collector, Base, Emitter so I had to swap the Collector and the Base to fit the little transistor.

A quick'n'dirty hack.
A quick'n'dirty hack.

Didn't work. So, I give up on this. I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to diagnose a fault in a €12 device. But I will, from this point on, not buy any LED/battery bug zappers. I've already had two fail (this would be the third). Clearly they aren't made with the same solidity as mains powered fluo tube units.

I probably should have known when I saw that the little one didn't come with a cleaning brush that the manufacturer might not have expected it to last long enough to need cleaning. ☺

It's not a complete loss, however. I was able to recover not only a 2000mAh 18650 Li-Ion cell, but also a charger/power adaptor. This one is good as I could leave it plugged in and the battery will take over if and when the power (from a USB adaptor) fails.

Recovered battery and charger
Recovered battery and charger.

The output is 4.1V with a fully charged battery, rising to 4.15V when running on USB power. More than enough to push into a 3.3V VREG to power a 3.3V microcontroller or somesuch.
Cheaper than Amazon, too. It seems that 18650s are expensive. A 2000mAh like the one above with an SM plug costs €20,69. What? That's like twice the price of the entire bug lamp.

But, yeah, stick with fluo bug lamps. They're more reliable.

A big UV bug lamp
A big UV bug lamp.

 

Cats

I am vaguely aware of "Cats". Sometimes mom would sing the Memories song, and she would quote bits of the original stories that the musical is based upon.

I knew Andrew Lloyd Webber made it into a wildly popular musical. It was a bunch of people dressed in cat suits. Which, let's face it, sounds utterly ridiculous.
But, then, there is something inherently ridiculous about musicals. People don't burst into song in real life, unless they're rocking out to the radio or are mental patients. And, certainly, never ever once has everybody joined them in a carefully choreographed dance unless it's been preplanned as a flashmob sort of thing.

So, okay, it's a story with people dressed as cats.

It's leaving Netflix on the 31st of July. Funny, I don't recall any promotion whatsoever for it arriving. But, whatever, I thought I'd watch it to see what all the fuss was about.

I think I had to remind myself to breathe for the first ten minutes. I mean, there's no amount of "What the actual hell is this?" that can adequately describe a first experience with the movie. This isn't people dressed as cats, this is people... I guess wearing leotards or something... that have had cat anatomy digitally superimposed. Including cat ears.

I hit pause, got up, made a tea. Okay, it was about ten and tea that late would seriously interfere with my ability to sleep (it did), but, dammit, I needed tea.

I swear to the old gods, if I ever hear anybody sing the word "Jellicle" there's going to be a homicide. Is the script of this available? I'd like to know how many times the Jellicle cats at the Jellicle ball went on about the Jellicle moon...

I really liked the visual style. It was a sort of neon-infused, what is it, set in the '40s or something? It looked great, the staging and the visual presentation.

The cats... were all out weird. They didn't quite manage to cope with the fact that human women have boobs, though it looks like they went to lengths to edit out the nipples. Probably just as well, as anybody who has ever been around a female cat will know that they have six.
It was kind of cool that they animated in moving ears, even though it was off-the-scale strange watching bipedal cats with human faces.
There was a dance routine where the cat's tails all suddenly went erect. I'm sorry, dear reader, but that's the point where I completely lost it. Forget about these people rubbing against each other (like cats do, but in humans it just looks like misplaced horniness). Those tails. Oh my.

The greatest shock isn't the cat-uh-people. Or the tails. No, the greatest shock is that this thing runs for nearly two hours.
Let me see if I can summarise in one paragraph: There's a group of cats (the Jellicles) that are going to have a big presentation in the presence of their cat master/god/whatever the heck Old Deuteronomy is. Each of the selected cats will present themselves in order to hopefully be chosen (by Deuteronomy) as The Jellicle Cat that will ascend to The Heaviside Layer that seems to be some sort of cat heaven. But it doesn't quite go to plan as one mean cat called Macavity does all he can to get rid of the competition to leave just one cat, himself, thus meaning he should be the de facto Jellicle Cat and ascend.

Wait. I can do better than that. How about a single sentence synopsis? Okay, let's try this: There's a group of cats throwing a party where they all introduce themselves hoping they'll be the one that gets to die.

Yes, the plot to this movie isn't paper thin. It's gold-leaf thin.

And that's about it. With songs and dances it is stretched out to almost two hours.

The visual effects are a bit hit and miss. In one dance you can see two of the cats jarringly wearing trainers. I can't help but think that was supposed to have been replaced. However, as I understand it (some post-film Googlage) they had a ridiculously short amount of time to do the visual effects for a long film and a director who had zero experience with this sort of graphics work and apparently wanted to see fully rendered dailies. Well, yeah, VFX artists tend to work with wireframes and unshaded blocks because the full render takes a long time.

The worst part, however, for me was a dreadful audio mix. I'm one of those weirdos that tends to watch stuff with subtitles even if it's in a language I understand. For Cats, I needed the subtitles. The vocal mix and the orchestration was a mess. Grizabella's big epic belt at the end of Memory was pretty much ruined by being drowned out by the music. Other times, words were mumbled, garbled, or just swamped by the music. It was a mess, to be honest.

As far as the actors go, well, Francesca Hayward (Victoria, the protagonist) is an actual ballet dancer, and it shows. But she's a newbie to acting, and it shows. Her entire emotion appears to be that sort of startled look that children have when they turn a handle on a musical box and a jack suddenly pops out.

The trifecta of Idris Elba (Macavity), Ian McKellan (Gus the Theatre Cat), and Judi Dench (Old Deuteronomy) are well aware of what sort of film they are in. Not only are they running rings around all of the lesser calibre actors, they're also having a great time. Idris is a blast as the over-hammy bad cat.

Amusingly, the rest of the cast look like they took things quite seriously. Even James Corden and Rebel Wilson, who were supposed to be some sort of comic relief, I guess, but the jokes just fell from the exosphere and burned up high in the air never landing, never mind hitting home.
Taylor Swift turns up as Bombalurina, possibly the sexiest cat in the entire film. That she descends from the ceiling on a stylised moon tossing out catnip dust pretty much seals the deal. She's also sporting a somewhat dubious English accent. Though, to be fair to Swift, she did start as a southern girl singing country songs.

I think this film will have something of a cult following, even for all it's weirdness. Okay, maybe not on quite the same scale as Rocky Horror or Repo! (Genetic Opera), but all the same. Once you get over the uncanny valley bizarreness of the cats and the awful audio mix, it's actually quite a fun movie. Granted, one that will probably leave you thinking "the hell did I just watch", but hey, it's memorable, right?

There's also something rather delightful that such a batshit bonkers concept actually became a finished movie. I look at what's going on in the world and I can't help but think that we need more batshit bonkers like Cats in our lives.

 

 

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Gavin Wraith, 29th July 2023, 22:48
I used to have a gramaphone record of T.S.Eliot reciting his cat poems. There must be an mp3 file of it available somewhere on the web. I presume that the musical has the decency to give due credit to the poet. They are only a trifle, hardly two hours worth. I do not think I have ever attended a musical. I have been to operas, but more for the company than the performance. What is not worth saying is sung. My favourite aria consists of two words "Happy we" in Acis and Galatea. My favourite line of libretto: "Fly, massy ruin, fly! Die presumptuous Acis, die!". And there, in eight words, you have the whole opera.
David Pilling, 29th July 2023, 23:00
Lets hear it for Linux being a copy of Bell Labs UNIX 
 
18650s and 18650s, some bigger capacities, some burst into flames. UK media pushing warnings about cheap batteries this week. Buying batteries deserves to be some sort of problem like "the prisoners dilemma" you know they want to sell you rubbish for a high price... 
 
Cats, the movie got a lot of bad press. It was OK. But the DVD of the stage musical is better. 
J.G.Harston, 30th July 2023, 00:39
Somewhere I've got a cassette tape of ten-year-old *me* reciting Old Pussum's Practical Cats.
Rick, 30th July 2023, 06:05
Knowing what mom was like, I've probably read it. But it would have been so long ago they I don't remember.
C Ferris, 30th July 2023, 10:24
Ancient pre India texts (6000 year old if translated correctly) talk about flying machines - what seems like the results of nuke bombs. 
 
Talk about people from a planet in a orbit that comes in range Avery thousands of years - modifying humans to use as a handy workforce.
Gavin Wraith, 30th July 2023, 11:12
Not sure what 'pre India' means. Google "Vimana". My grandmother was a sucker for Adamski, ancient science, any kind of flakey weirdness. Like so many of her generation she was caught in the backwash of the death of religion, and never had the sort of education her curiosity needed.
C Ferris, 30th July 2023, 11:40
Some old ideas are updated - like ancient Archimedes mechanical planet  
predictor - of one example found off Greece. 
 
Ideas Years later -were made into mechanical clocks.
David Pilling, 30th July 2023, 17:53
Oliver Heaviside 1850-1925 and T S Elliot 1888-1965 could have met and worked on a musical. But Practical Cats was published in 1939. 
 
Andrew Lloyd Weber (1948) gained permission for the musical from the second wife of T S Elliot. 
 
Although best known for his role in a musical about singing cats Oliver Heaviside also re-wrote Maxwell's equations in the form commonly used today. 
Gavin Wraith, 30th July 2023, 18:22
I heard a talk about Heaviside when I was a student, that mentioned something, not in the Wikipedia article, about his eccentricities in Devon. He lived in a dwelling that had a gas supply. During some cold weather he cut the pipe supplying the gas, and set the emerging gas alight. Luckily this was discovered before the consequences became tragic.
Rick, 30th July 2023, 19:36
Meh, it was basically just a big Bunsen burner...
Anon, 30th July 2023, 23:45
"* - I'm making this stuff up, can you tell?" 
 
Actually some of what you speak could have been incorporated into some 'audiophile' marketing bull excrement! 
 
OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) cable IS actually a thing. The idea is that the 'skin effect' causes the current to flow more on the outer edge of the conductor as the frequency increases, which is one of the reasons hi-fi speaker cables tend to have a high number of thinner strands of copper. 
 
Basically when it comes down to speaker cable, you want to achieve the lowest resistance between the amplifier and speaker. The two most obvious ways to do that are either to use a larger cross-section cable, or to replace copper with something that's a better conductor. Like silver. A common trick with sensibly priced speaker cable is to use silver-plated copper strands, that way you get the advantage of the lower resistance of silver but at a much lower cost. For example, Richer Sounds sell a pretty hefty silver-plated cable for about £5/metre. Compare that with the likes of cables from Chord or Audioquest that goes for 4 times that (and doesn't really sound any better). 
 
Your DIY speaker extension is perfectly adequate for your setup. On a proper "hi-fi" setup you'd want to keep the speaker cables the same length, or at least the same length in a group of channels (so in a 7.1 system, the speakers are in 3 groups, LCR front, LR surround and LR back surround). This is the reason that all 3 cables to the front speakers on the home cinema setup are 3 metres in length, even though the left speaker is only 3 feet from the receiver. On a setup like that, it can cause mismatches with cable impedence. 
 
Contrast that with the setup at my parents' place in the kitchen, a Sony micro system with CD player, tuner and iPod dock. The speakers have captive leads that are about 2 feet in length. The system is set up with one speaker at either end of the kitchen window sill. So of course the left speaker lead had to be extended. A few feet of zip wire and a terminal block did the trick. 
 
Of course that system is 5W RMS per channel so no issues there. It also has a single full-range driver in each speaker, so even if there was a cable impedence mismatch you'd never hear it. 
 
I'll concede that up until a few years ago I'd have classed myself as an 'audiophile'. But like I said in a previous comment, in the post-digital world, some of the stuff peddled by high-end 'hi-fi' companies is pure snake oil. 
 
Here's an interesting one though. Take an offboard DAC, eg the DAC-in-the-box or the Arcam Black Box (both of which use a Philips TDA1541 chip). Connect a CD player up to it (via the SPDIF). Play your favourite CD. Now connect a DVD player to the DAC's input instead of the CD player. Try the disc again. It will sound noticeably better. Clearer top end with more sparkle, better defined soundstaging, tighter and more accurate bass. How is this possible with you're using a digital SPDIF connection? In a word, jitter. 
 
When you play a CD in a normal player, there's a servo mechanism that keeps the data streaming off the CD in sync with a crystal clock. That data is then thrown to the internal DAC over IIS, and to the SPDIF out via an IIS to SPDIF conversion chip. Because there's a mechanical element to the timebase (ie the spinning disc) there is some jitter on the SPDIF output. 
 
When you play an audio CD in a DVD player, it plays the disc in the same way as a PC, ie by performing asynchonous digital audio extraction at higher than real time speed, reading the PCM data into a 64MB (usually) RAM chip. The data is then clocked out of the RAM chip at 1x speed, using a crystal clock as a timebase. 
 
As a result, a DVD player makes a far more stable transport than a CD player. 
 
I've repeated this experiment several times, with a number of CD and DVD players, and a number of DACs (including built in to AV receivers). Every time, the result has been the same - the DVD player sounds better when used as a transport. 
 
Of course if you're streaming music over a network you eliminate jitter this way. Contrary to what Audioquest may have you believe about 'audiophile' Ethernet cables, everything is buffered, the cable makes zero difference. 
 
Rick - are you familiar with the Logitech (formerly Slim Devices) Squeezebox system?
Rick, 31st July 2023, 00:04
I'd think an equal problem with CD players is that they're build to be the minimum necessary to function, leading to things like the 1 bit DAC. Not as crazy as it sounds, but absolutely no tolerance for glitches. 
 
My portable CD player had an antishock system that would speed-read the disc into a buffer to then play the audio from memory, filling the buffer as necessary. It was nice to be able to move without problems. Damn near wore it out mowing the lawn. I progressed to a little MP3 player powered by AAAs which was smaller, bit ironically not as good, since my CD player could cope with a disc of MP3s and, well, 650MB versus 256... ;) 
Anon, 31st July 2023, 07:59
This test was done with proper "hi-fi separate" CD players, eg from Technics (with the Philips CDM-4A and CDM-12A transports), Sony, Philips, Rotel, and a couple of others. So we're talking standalone CD players in the price range of £100-200 (this was 20+ years ago so that was a fair price for a 'standard' CD player at the time). And yes, whilst the CD player gave a better sound than the DVD player when using the analogue outputs, the DVD player wiped the floor with the CD player when used solely as a digital transport. 
 
In the late 1990s, two of the big-name companies were researching this. One of them (Arcam) spent a lot of time and money into researching and implementing jitter reduction. The solution they came up with was to move the master clock into the DAC, and link the DAC to the transport using a 75ohm phono cable for the SPDIF data (transport to DAC), and have a second optical cable that sent the clock signal from the DAC back to the transport. It worked, for the most part. 
 
Meridian, on the other hand, just used an ATAPI DVD drive as the CD transport, used a FPGA chip to extract digital audio from the disc in burst mode (so basically like ripping a CD on your PC) and play the PCM data from RAM. Far simpler. 
 
Moving on to MP3 players. As much as it pains me to say this, one of the best MP3 players is the iPod. (I really don't want to come across as an Apple fan boi here.) That said, I picked up one branded "Oakcastle" off Amazon a while back for about £25 which has 16GB internal flash memory, a Micro SD slot that takes up to 128GB, and Bluetooth. The last part is relevant as it then doesn't matter how crap the analogue audio circuitry is; it's just decoding the MP3 data and streaming it to my headphones (JBL on-ears) over Bluetooth. 
 
It's actually quite hard to get a decent standalone MP3 player nowadays, it seems that most of the major manufacturers just assume that your phone will double up as an MP3 player. This is true, I have a 256GB memory card in my phone and an Android app that syncs my media server's MP3 share onto the phone. But I bought the Oakcastle to take on holiday, it's small enough to go into a pocket, much less likely to get smashed or cracked than the phone, and if the worst happens it's £25 to replace. And of course it sounds identical, as the 1s and 0s being sent over Bluetooth are the same whether they're coming from a £25 MP3 player or from a £500 smartphone. 
 
(Actually my smartphone was £110 SIM-free, but that's still over 4 times the price of the Oakcastle MP3 player to replace if it gets broken.) 
 
The only niggle I have about the Oakcastle is that despite having a full colour screen, it won't display album art whilst playing. Instead it gives some faux animation which is supposed to look like a spectrum analyser. Not sure why, it reads the ID3 tags (V1 and V2) and displays the track info. Still, £25, can't complain. My point being that over Bluetooth it sounds identical to a far more expensive device.
Rick, 31st July 2023, 08:19
Ah, Bluetooth. That's a whole different kettle of fish. 
Because it's an implementation of a kinda slow serial protocol, traditional audio is done using SBC. While SBC *can* support 48kHz and high bitrates, typical headphones will ask for something worse than MP3. Which is why newer stuff supports AAC, AptX (HD), etc etc. 
 
It's all a series of tradeoffs and compromises.
C Ferris, 31st July 2023, 09:33
Since you lot know a fair bit about sound - would you know if it possible to receive Bluetooth sound from a TV to ear buds - not large headphones?
C Ferris, 31st July 2023, 09:36
With ref to RISC OS -Why is Bluetooth so difficult to implement?
Anon, 31st July 2023, 13:14
I know... I paired my Bluetooth headphones up with the laptop and accidentally selected "Bluetooth headset" rather than "Bluetooth headphones" as the Winamp output device. 
 
The result was mono audio at telephone quality. 
 
I think my JBLs support AptX, certainly A2DP, which is hi-fi quality. Maybe not 'audiophile' quality, but it sounds perfectly acceptable to me. (As an aside, I'm led to believe that Bluetooth AptX is a derivitive of the aptx100 codec used for DTS home cinema sound.) 
 
Another interesting one is whether to stream to a speaker via Bluetooth or via DLNA. Use DLNA where available. Think about this: 
 
Decode MP3 to PCM. Encode PCM to Bluetooth codec (A2DP or aptX). Send via Bluetooth. Decode to PCM. Send to amplifier. 
 
Alternatively, send MP3 data over Wi-Fi to speaker. Speaker decodes MP3 to PCM and sends to speaker. 
 
DLNA sounds better as you're not re-encoding the audio from one lossy format to another. 
 
C Ferris - No idea about Bluetooth on RISC OS (does it even support the Wi-Fi chip on the Pi yet?). But the headphone question, earbuds and large headphones will both use the Bluetooth "headphones" profile. So if your TV will connect to headphones over Bluetooth then yes, it should work just the same with earbuds.
David Pilling, 31st July 2023, 17:07
See "Shaving Compact Discs to improve the sound (?!)" Techmoan on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-QxLAxwxkM&t=0s 
 
which touches on the same thing, comparing what comes off CDs in different circumstances. 
 
ISTR that he finds no difference (error correction of digital data and all that), but in the comments someone points out that the analogue side in some CD players is affected by what the digital side is getting up to. 
David Pilling, 31st July 2023, 17:13
Like the digital side using more power and that changes the analogue result - an out of band, second order effect. Bad design and it does not happen in higher end audio equipment.
Rick, 31st July 2023, 20:30
Bluetooth is hard to implement because you're not just writing a driver to talk to a chip. That's just the groundwork. 
On top of that is an entire stack (similar to the internet stack) that handles the "infrastructure" (which is ad-hoc just to complicate things), plus security if wanted, plus handling for all sorts of devices. Keyboards? Serial ports? Headphones? Or just flinging files around. There's a lot going on under the hood. 
 
As was mentioned above, if you listen to Avantasia on your phone (it's what's playing on the radio as I write this), the MP3 or AAC is decoded to PCM audio. The Bluetooth stack takes this and re-encodes it on the fly to something else (often SBC). This is automatic and in the background, as is the enumeration of available protocols and ways of encoding. 
 
So, don't hold your breath expecting this to turn up. RODev might surprise us, but it would need somebody who's willing to pay for it...
Rick, 31st July 2023, 20:39
The problem I've come across is that some CDs have messed up and intentionally corrupted digital TOCs in order to render them unplayable in computers. 
 
Like most half-arsed attempts at copy protection, it's useless (AudioGrabber has an option to ignore brokenness and ask the drive to examine the TOC that a regular CD player uses - this is when you start having to know about ASPI and MSCDEX!), while at the same time annoying legitimate users by not working on anything other than a computer that can cheat, or a very stupid CD player. Anything in between would spit out the disc as "damaged". 
Rick, 31st July 2023, 20:42
Speaking of damaged, I habitually rip my DVDs. 
Originally it was because my analogue TV simply couldn't cope with the Macrovision used after around 2004ish and would freak out (rolling tearing picture), so I had to rip to strip out that crap. 
 
These days (*) I rip in order to watch on my phone or tablet as I no longer have a working TV. 
 
* - actually, with Netflix and Prime Video I don't watch DVDs much any more and haven't bought one in ages. 
Anon, 31st July 2023, 20:59
Those early "corrupt disc" releases (eg Shakira's debut album, and I believe there was a Sealion Dying [1] release as well) worked by putting a second "session" on the disc with a corrupt TOC. You could get around that by using a green CD-R pen to block out enough of the outer TOC so that the drive would treat it as a single-session disc and read the inner TOC. Rip the disc then burn back to a fresh CD-R. This new disc could then be ripped on anything. 
 
The most laughable thing about those "protected" discs is that they were all Sony Music titles. I had a Sony "music library" in my car at the time they came out (early 2000s, had a 16GB hard drive and you could rip discs to it). The in-car unit couldn't play the protected CDs (as they also introduced multiple sync errors). A Sony CD wouldn't play on a Sony CD player. 
 
Even more ironically, I have a dual-deck Sony CD recorder. One of these 'protected' discs plays perfectly in the left hand drive. So just whack in a blank disc into the right hand drive and hit Copy. Sony's copy protection defeated by one of Sony's own products. 
 
I've also come across discs where the last 2 or 3 tracks have intentional mastering errors. EAC gets so far and slows right down with multiple sync errors. Again, copying the last few tracks to a blank CD-RW in the Sony dual deck and ripping from this solves the problem. 
 
I also habitually now rip DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, now I've figured out a way of playing them through the TV off the media server - an el-cheapo Samsung Blu-Ray player (£10 off Gumtree) can stream stuff off the media server running MiniDLNA. It's a direct rip so same quality as the original disc. Only problem is a few Blu-Ray titles infected with Cinavia, but that can be solved by streaming directly to the TV (also over Ethernet) rather than to the Blu-Ray player. 
 
Rick - out of interest, what do you use to rip DVDs?
Rick, 31st July 2023, 21:15
Handbrake on an old XP box. Doesn't run in real-time, so it's a set it and forget it job (Handbrake can Hibernate the system when done).
Anon, 1st August 2023, 09:24
Didn't realise that Handbrake can rip as well. Might have to have a play. 
 
CD ripping - EAC / Lame 
DVD ripping - DVD Decrypter / DVD Shrink / DVDVOB2MPG 
Blu-ray ripping - MakeMKV 
 
DVD Decrypter is nice as it'll rip and merge all the files that make up one title into a single VOB file, optionally removing streams (foreign languages / subtitles, director's commentaries etc). Then run through DVDVOB2MPG to convert to an MPG file. (Yes, you CAN just rename the .vob to .mpg and it'll probably work, but DVDVOB2MPG will 'fix' any header errors and give you a valid MPG file.) 
 
Normally with a DVD I remove all the subtitles except 'forced', and all the soundtracks other than the best quality (so DTS in preference, then AC3 5.1 etc). 
 
All Blu-Ray players will decode DTS, so even if your BD player runs straight into the telly, then (unlike DVD players) the player will decode the DTS, downmix to 2-channel and play perfectly through the TV speakers. 
 
With Blu-Ray rips I tend to remove the HD Master audio (leaving the DTS) and the TrueHD audio (leaving the AC3). The AC3 bitrate from a Blu-Ray is 640Kbit; DVD tops out at 448Kbit (and is more usually 320Kbit). DTS from BD runs at the full 1.5Mbit, DTS on a DVD is usually 768Kbit. I can't tell the difference between full-rate DTS and HD Master. I struggle to hear a difference between AC3 at 640Kbit and TrueHD. That saves many megs of data on the BD rip! 
 
Do you re-encode with Handbrake or just do a 1:1 rip?
Rick, 1st August 2023, 14:47
I downsample the audio to Dolby stereo at 192kbit AAC, and transcode the video to H.264 at a quality of ~22. I think the raw data stays anamorphic (as it is on the DVD). 
 
My previous method used a program that only supported one audio track, so I had to run a second encode with really crap video quality to get a copy of the commentaries. 
Handbrake can add these into the file as an extra audio track, so I simply add them in as straight stereo at 96kbit AAC. 
 
The only thing that can't be done is subtitles. Unfortunately DVD subtitles are an image overlay and not timed text (as the hardware wasn't up to that back in the day). So subs can be burned into the video, but not added as a separate channel or data. 
 
The output is an mp4 file. 
 
I can set a bunch of encodes into the queue (like those extra proglets so often included these days) and then just leave it running overnight. It'll power down when it's done. 
Anon, 1st August 2023, 22:40
I guess that'll work. I had a play with Handbrake as I'd picked up the Blu-ray of Ghostbusters (the original) and it was pretty much unwatchable; there was so much film grain that it was 'strobing' with the edge enhancement that the studio had applied to it. So I re-encoded it from 1080p down to 720p. When I stream this back to the Blu-Ray player over DLNA it scales back up to 1080p - and no more strobing effect. 
 
Ah, DVD subtitles. A horrible hack. On the DVDs of the original Star Wars trilogy they'd used the 'forced' subtitles option for Huttese. I used AVIsynth (as part of DVD Rebuilder) to 'burn in' the Huttese subtitles in a nice anti-aliased font, rather than the horrible jagged crap the DVD player could overlay. 
 
One of the improvements between The Mummy and The Mummy Returns - on the second film they burnt in the subtitles using the Egyptian style font. But only on the DVD version. The Blu-Ray uses standard text. Which kinda sucks. 
 
Out of interest, Ghostbusters took about 8 hours to process on my desktop PC (Intel i3, 3.3GHz, 20MB RAM, 256GB SSD). That was with 'mastering quality' settings, but still... leave it overnight to 'cook'.
Anon, 1st August 2023, 22:42
Of course I mean 20GB RAM in the desktop, not 20MB. This is 2023, not 1996!

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